BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Tensions ran high in a Bastrop County courtroom on the second day of an evidentiary hearing for Rodney Reed to determine whether or not he should receive a new trial.
More than 20 years after his 1998 conviction for the killing of Stacey Stites, the Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Reed’s scheduled execution and sent the case back to the lower courts for further “fact-finding.” Now, Reed’s defense team said they have new evidence and new witnesses to bring before the judge that they say “gut” the state’s original case against him.
The second day began with mounting tensions during testimony and cross-examination of three of the defense witnesses.
The first witness was a former Deputy with the Lee County Sheriff’s office named James Clampit.
He said he attended Stacey Stites’ viewing after her death and remembers seeing her buried in white — in what was supposed to be her wedding dress. Then, he told the court that Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, told him “she got what she deserved,” referring to Stites.
“I’ve never been shocked that bad in my life,” Clampit recalls. “[It’s] burned in my mind. Been there forever.”
When prosecutors began their cross-examination, they pressed Clampit on why he didn’t tell any of Stites’ family or any law enforcement officers who attended the viewing in 1996. Then, they pressed him on why he didn’t come forward anytime over the last two decades.
“You didn’t think this was important? they asked. “It’s only after you saw the media that you realized this was important?”
Prosecution then asked why the witness had left a job at the Texas Parks and Wildlife in his past, and whether it had anything to do with allegations of lying under oath in another case. They pointed to a court document from this separate matter to back up this claim.
They ended their questioning by asking Clampit, “So, there’s a good chance your memory is not as clear as it should be?”
He replied, “It’s very possible, yes.”
Questioning of the next witness, Arthur Snow, took up much of the rest of the morning. He spent time in prison with Fennell. Before he knew Fennell was a police officer, Snow admitted that he offered Fennell protection, throug
h his power as leader in the Aryan Brotherhood gang.
During their time behind bars, Snow told the court that Fennell said, “You wouldn’t believe how easily a belt breaks when you strangle n****-loving whore.” Evidence shows Stites’ was strangled with a belt.
Members of the gallery were audibly shocked by at the statement.
Snow went on to explain he heard a lot of “stories” while behind bars, but “the only reason I remember Jimmy Fennell is he turned out to be cop.” He added that the gang ended their protection of Fennell at the prison after they found out about his identity.
Prosecutors and Snow went back and forth over whether Jimmy had approached Snow directly for that protection, or whether Fennell had spoken to a lower-ranking member of the group. The attorney’s continued to point out differences in Snow’s sworn affidavit from 2019 and his testimony in court on Tuesday.
“Something along the lines of, ‘She got what she deserved.'”James Clampit, witness in Rodney Reed hearing, testifies on what he says Jimmy Fennell told him
“If you wanna play a word game, play it,” Snow said. To that, the prosecutor responded that he was just trying to understand.
Snow and the prosecutor began raising their voices and even talking over one another. Ultimately, Snow asserted his right to silence by pleading the fifth amendment, but the defense asked Judge J.D. Langley for a quick break instead.
Rodney’s brother temporarily barred
When the judge returned from the break, he issued a stern warning to people attending the proceedings, saying said he had removed someone from the proceedings for making comments to the prosecution team.
“I’m not here to referee a fight between the gallery and the lawyers,” Judge Langley said. “I will not tolerate any person in the gallery trying to interfere with the proceedings.”
Rodney Reed’s brother Rodrick confirmed he was the person who had been asked not to return to the hearing room — telling reporters he was upset. He said he made a comment to the state’s attorney because that attorney was “staring” at him.
“I didn’t cuss. No profanity, no anger, no threat. I just said, ‘I don’t see how they can sleep at night,'” he said. “I’ve been fighting hard for 24 years – I’ve been across this country two or three different times to get justice,” Rodrick said.
He went on to say that he’s fighting for justice for his brother, but also for Stacey Stites and other Bastrop citizens, but he believes the judges removal was an effort to silence him.
A Bastrop County court official stated that Roderick’s removal would last for the remainder of the hearing. However, after lunch and during witness testimony, Rodrick was let back into the hearing room around 1:45 p.m.
The court heard from a third witness, Michael Bordelon, who also encountered Fennell behind bars.
Bordelon said that during a private conversation, Fennell told him “I took care of her,” referring to his fiancée. He also said that Fennell told him, “that damn n-word is going to do the time.”
Both the defense and the prosecution asked him to describe a hand motion Fennell reportedly made during this conversation, miming strangulation.
This witness said it was years later, after seeing a special on Dr. Phil about the Rodney Reed case, the he felt called to “follow his heart” and come forward.
“It clicked something,” he said. “I guess it was meant for me to see the show.”
The prosecution asked the witness about details leading up to his decision to come forward. They questioned his account and asked, “is your memory getting better with time?”
The three other witnesses called to the stand on Tuesday all worked in different capacities for the grocery store HE, where Stites worked and where law enforcement believes she was headed at the time of her death.
Two of them testified they had witnessed interactions between Reed and Stites inside and outside the store. Establishing a relationship between the two has been a key point in the defense’s argument, while prosecutors continue to argue against that link.
Another former employee described for the court a tense exchange between Stites and a man the employee later found out was Fennell. He said he was never interviewed by law enforcement or the defense team in Reed’s case, until now.
This witness emphasized that he didn’t come forward with this narrative sooner because “in a lot of small southern towns… minorities get a bad rap.”
Stacey Stites’ family responds
For the first time since the hearing began, Stacey Stites’ sister spoke publicly on Tuesday, saying the new testimony had not changed their minds at all.
“I haven’t found any of them to be credible – the fact that a lot of these people waited for over 20 years before they decided to come forward?” she said. “The mind is a funny thing, and sometimes seeds are planted.”
Oliver spoke directly to the claims made by the former HEB employees. She noted that she herself had worked in retail, and therefore knew how many conversations her sister might have had over the course of her time at the grocery store.
“I talked to a lot of people when I worked in retail — doesn’t mean I was sleeping with them,” she insisted. “So far, I haven’t seen anything that changes my mind that there was absolutely no reason for Rodney Reed to have any type of DNA on my sister.”
“We are together. We are one voice, and we are saying no more sexual assaults of women.”Debra Oliver, Stacey Stites’ sister
Oliver noted they have been in contact with other families and women who have accused Reed of other sexual abuse and assaults. She said that even if Reed were to get out of prison on the convictions in her sister’s case, she believes he will be facing other charges.
When asked about the supporters for Rodney Reed, who filled the gallery of the hearing room, Oliver said, “I know that they don’t want to accept the fact that their loved one is a serial rapist and murderer, but unfortunately that is who Rodney Reed is.”
Oliver also mentioned that her family stays in touch with Jimmy Fennell, and they consider him “a brother.”
Ultimately, she stated that her family still “100 percent” believes Rodney Reed killed her sister.
Looking back, looking forward
Both the defense attorneys and state’s attorneys were able to call witnesses to testify in the hearing, which is expected to last for two weeks.
The state is expected to call a second forensic pathologist, named Dr. Gregory Davis, to testify over Zoom on Wednesday morning. A letter filed with the court reveals this expert will likely speak about why he disagrees with the original testimony given by the medical examiner in Stites’ case, and he will likely reiterate many of the points made by the first forensic pathologist called to the stand on Monday.
KXAN’s Avery Travis is in Bastrop for the second day of the hearing and will be updating this article with the latest details as they develop. She’ll provide live updates from the hearing in the Twitter thread below.